WikiLeaks Reveals Steinmeier Intercepts, 2 Years before Helping Condi Look Unconcerned by Kidnapping Liabilities

In its latest release on the individual intercepts the NSA collected on top German officials, WikiLeaks revealed that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had been a priority 2 target in NSA’s monitoring of German political affairs.

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The actual intercept released with today’s list of targets pertains to Steinmeier’s first visit to DC as Foreign Minister in November 2005.

The intercept described how Steinmeier was pleased to have gotten a non-committal answer from Condi Rice when he asked her whether the CIA had run rendition flights through Germany.

(TS//SI//NF) New German Foreign Minister Pleased With First Official  Visit to Washington

(TS//SI//NF) Frank­-Walter Steinmeier seemed pleased on 29 November  with the results of his first visit to Washington as the new German Foreign Minister. Steinmeier described the mood during his talks with U.S. officials as very good, but feared that the most difficult part was still ahead. He seemed relieved that he had not received any  definitive response from the U.S. Secretary of State regarding press reports of CIA flights through Germany to secret prisons in eastern  Europe allegedly used for interrogating terrorism suspects. Steinmeier remarked that Washington is placing great hope in his  country’s new government. In this connection, he is looking for areas where bilateral cooperation can be strengthened and is considering  the southern Caucasus as one possible area.

This would have been of particular concern for Steinmeier as he was Chief of Staff in German’s Chancellery, in charge of intelligence. If German intelligence did know about the flights, he would be complicit. So he might be particularly happy to report that the US — that Condi Rice — was officially giving a non-answer to the question of whether or not the CIA was using Germany as a base for its kidnapping flights.

Better to officially not know.

Now, I actually am not at all troubled that NSA is wiretapping foreign officials. They’re surely doing the same to our equivalents. So while I’m interested in what these WikiLeak releases say about our NSA activities, I’m not critical of these activities.

But I am interested that Steinmeier was wiretapped for this reason.

As a State cable released by WikiLeaks back in 2010 showed, in 2007, Steinmeier and Condi met to discuss the recent arrest warrants issued by a German court. Steinmeier came out of the meeting and said publicly that Condi had told him she and the US would have no problem with the issue of arrest warrants for 13 US agents. After Steinmeier created that impression in the press, the Deputy Chief of the Mission to Germany corrected that impression, making it clear that the US had a very big problem with the planned arrest of its agents for kidnapping.

Just as the German prosecutor issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA personnel, Condi Rice and Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met in DC for a discussion of Mideast peace efforts. After they met, Steinmeier told the German press that Condi had assured him that the arrest warrants wouldn’t affect German-US relations.

Steinmeier told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that he had raised the issue with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who “assured me there would be no negative impact on German-American relations.”

Steinmeier, whose remarks were released a day ahead of publication on Sunday, said he told Rice the warrants could only be served in Germany at present, but the government expected the court to issue international warrants at some stage.

The cable describes a February 6, 2007 meeting in which the Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy in Germany, John Koenig, “corrected” the impression that Steinmeier had gotten from his meeting with Condi the week before.

In a February 6 discussion with German Deputy National Security Adviser Rolf Nikel, the DCM reiterated our strong concerns about the possible issuance of international arrest warrants in the al-Masri case. The DCM noted that the reports in the German media of the discussion on the issue between the Secretary and FM Steinmeier in Washington were not accurate, in that the media reports suggest the USG was not troubled by developments in the al-Masri case. The DCM emphasized that this was not the case and that issuance of international arrest warrants would have a negative impact on our bilateral relationship. He reminded Nikel of the repercussions to U.S.-Italian bilateral relations in the wake of a similar move by Italian authorities last year.

Koenig goes on to note that the government would have political problems in the US if the Germans issued the international arrest warrants.

The DCM pointed out that the USG would likewise have a difficult time in managing domestic political implications if international arrest warrants are issued.

[snip]

[T]his was obviously a hastily called meeting in response to Steinmeier’s quotation of Condi’s assurances the warrantswouldn’t cause a problem. Note the specific language Koenig uses:

The DCM noted that the reports in the German media of the discussion on the issue between the Secretary and FM Steinmeier in Washington were not accurate, in that the media reports suggest the USG was not troubled by developments in the al-Masri case.

He’s not telling the Germans that Steinmeier was wrong, that he mis-quoted Condi. Rather, Koenig’s simply saying that the content–what Condi had said–was wrong.

While the cable makes it clear that Koenig was emphasizing the stance of the USG, it’s still not clear whether Condi just lied to Steinmeier about USG concern, using that as cover for the kidnapping that she, who was National Security Advisor during the kidnapping, would have been implicated in, or whether Steinmeier knowingly put disinformation into the press that State subordinates could correct in secret. That is, it’s not clear how knowingly Steinmeier served as a stooge in US disinformation that ultimately protected Condi.

But I do find the continuity of Steinmeier’s happiness about pretending there was no kidnapping going on in Germany to be notable. I also find it notable that Condi and her friends would have had very detailed understanding of Steinmeier’s opinions and activities from the interim period.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

5 replies
  1. scribe says:

    And the SZ does a nice job of reporting similarly, though in German.
    .
    Recall that a week or two ago, in their editorial with a lede of “Ami go home”, the SZ made a clear case that the Italian court had preserved the honor of the Italian Rule of Law by proceeding with the trials of CIA agents in the kidnapping case.
    .
    OTOH, today’s SZ article references back to the frustration of the local German prosecutors who were pursuing similar charges against US personnel over the same kidnapping. The flight that took the kidnap victim to Egypt went through Ramstein. The operation itself, had been planned and assembled by US personnel in Frankfurt. The German prosecutors were stonewalled both by the US and their own government and their investigation never got off the ground.
    .
    The SZ also notes that, on the list of phone numbers/contact information which accompanies this disclosure is one marked “Fischer”, as in Joschka Fischer, Steinmeier’s predecessor in office.

  2. galljdaj says:

    Where are the RICO Police? Crimes to the right of us. Crimes to the left of us. Crimes above us. Crimes below us. Crimes behind us. Crime right in front of Our faces!

    And no RICO Police to be found! With War Crimes connected and Interpol asleep.

    Now we have conspirators at every window, door, and crack!

    How can US Citizens ever feel safe again!?

  3. ess emm says:

    Now, I actually am not at all troubled that NSA is wiretapping foreign officials. They’re surely doing the same to our equivalents.

    Huh? Spying on your allies is paranoid, sociopathic behavior. It seems strange that you’re cool with it—and the justification you give isn’t very convincing.

  4. TarheelDem says:

    In 1929, the State Department withdrew its share of the funding, the Army declined to bear the entire load, and the Black Chamber closed down. New Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson made this decision, and years later in his memoirs made the oft-quoted comment: “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.” Stimson’s ethical reservations about cryptanalysis focused on the targeting of diplomats from America’s close allies, not on spying in general. Once he became Secretary of War during World War II, he and the entire US command structure relied heavily on decrypted enemy communications.

    What courtesies are accorded allies anymore?

  5. No. 3 says:

    There’s a fascinating uniformity to this statement, now cropping up in various nominally dissenting forums:

    “Now, I actually am not at all troubled that NSA is wiretapping foreign officials. They’re surely doing the same to our equivalents.”

    [First person pronoun] [They do it too]

    Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations Article 27(2): The official correspondence of the mission shall be inviolable. Official correspondence means all correspondence relating to the mission and its functions.

    Diplomatic and consular archives and documents are inviolable in law wherever they may be.

    There was a government-issue if/then slogan to justify torture and a government-issue civility slogan to deny war crimes and aggression. Nobody who parroted those remembers anymore. So in a few years when the reality of this peremptory norm can no longer be denied, let’s remember who said this stuff.

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